Monday, April 28, 2014

The Power of Words

Lately, well maybe all year, I've been really aware of language.  Language has proved to bring with it some of the biggest joys as well as some frustrations.  It is a good feeling when you can effectively communicate something you're feeling, especially in another language.  Languages surround me this year.  While English is still a part of my daily life, so is Malay, Chinese, and now Malay Sign Language (not the same as American Sign Language).  I'm learning all of these on some level, but am better at communicating in some more than others.

The power of positive language has really encouraged me this year.  This past weekend we had an overnight outing with Cheshire Home.  With 40ish people, there was a lot to do and prepare.  I can be a little awkward at inserting myself into situations, but I really wanted to help the women with the cooking and food preparation for this big group.  So I walked into the kitchen and asked if I could help.  I did some chopping (which I am not good at making things a consistent size), but then I was given the spatulas to the wok.  As I stirred the vegetables and added in sauces, one of our sweet cooks goes "Ah! Sarah pandai sudah!!" (Sarah is clever already)  And I was then welcome to help prepare all weekend long.  That is one example, but I have countless others... Mrs. Soong telling me she loves me when I was sick and crying in December, one of the sweet residents at Cheshire calling me "Auntie" everyday when I see her, hearing "Good morning Teacher Sarah" when students walk in the door.  Words can make you feel so so good.

But language can also tear down and cause hurt.  The words I am talking about are hurtful ones, ones that I feel forget that I am also human.  The most hurtful language I have experienced this year has mostly surrounded race.  I have been called "another species", I have been reminded that I am "so different" from everyone else, I have been told that all white people look the same, so it is hard to pick me out, just to name a few...
While these independently may sound funny or absurd to you, or perhaps like things you have said to reference other races, even jokingly, after hearing them repeatedly and being on the receiving end, they really are not funny.  They are very hurtful.

**(I feel the need to do a really big disclaimer here- This is not characteristic of the majority of people I interact with on a daily basis.  Instead these are isolated incidents.  However, let that show that even one or two people can have a profound impact on the way a person perceives themselves.  Also, the feeling of being white here in Malaysia is something that I have wanted to talk about on a blog or in some way for awhile now.  I would say that usually, I receive comments like "You're so beautiful", "Hi Miss, you're so pretty" if I am just walking down the street... which is endearing but also at times just makes me uncomfortable to constantly be a spectacle.  So, the race comments I receive are across the spectrum, yet still have affected me this year.)

Statements, even if not ill-intended, that are made at the expense of another person really are so hurtful. On the flip side, be encouraging!  If there is a way that you can build someone up, do it!  To quote Kid President, "If you can't think of anything nice to say, you're not thinking hard enough."

1 comment:

  1. I am feeling sad reading this. Humans are just so inclined to put others into categories and be presumptuous. It does not help that some Sabahans have very limited vocabulary to describe a person - pretty, cute, clever, that's about it.

    But you must know that "Orang-Putih" is often highly regarded here and even as they categorized you as white, they usually accord respect to you.